Four Appeals- Court Decision Supports Borough Village District Zoning
Court Decision Supports Borough Village District Zoning
By Andrew Gorosko
A judge has dismissed four court appeals against the Borough Zoning Commission that challenged the commissionâs 2003 enactment of Village District zoning regulations for commercially zoned areas in the borough, thus letting the Village District rules remain in effect.
The four court appeals, which were filed in 2003 and 2004 by the owners of commercially zoned properties in the borough, generally charged that the boroughâs Village District zoning regulations are vague, would damage development potential, and would hurt property values.
In May 2003, the Borough Zoning Commission approved the Village District zoning rules as way to keep future commercial development in the borough in âaesthetic harmonyâ with existing architecture.
The regulations are intended to preserve the appearance of areas in the borough with âbusinessâ and âprofessionalâ zoning designations. The intent of the rules is to âprotect the distinctive character, landscape, and historic valuesâ of the area by placing various restrictions and controls on commercial development. The commission has revised the Village District regulations since May 2003.
On March 18, Danbury Superior Court Judge John R. Downey ruled on the four court appeals.
Eaton Centers, LLC, was the plaintiff in two appeals filed in 2003 and 2004. RC Equity Group, LLC, was the plaintiff in a 2004 appeal. Pepper Partners Limited Partnership, and others, were the plaintiffs in a 2004 appeal.
Eaton Centers owns the shopping center at 5 Queen Street, which formerly housed the Grand Union supermarket. RC Equity Group is the landlord of the Church Hill Road property near the Housatonic Railroad overpass that contains offices for The Taunton Press. Pepper Partners owns several commercially zoned properties on Church Hill Road.Â
Through the four appeals, the plaintiffs challenged the legitimacy of the Borough Zoning Commission enacting the Village District regulations. Lawyers representing the plaintiffs argued their respective clientsâ legal positions in court hearings that were held on March 5, and February 7.
In his decision, Judge Downey found that state law allows municipalities the power to create âvillage districts,â or specialized zoning districts in areas that are specifically identified in the municipalitiesâ Plans of Conservation and Development.
In their arguments, the plaintiffs claimed that the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z), in adopting its 1993 town plan, did not specifically identify the Village District in the borough by geographic area. Because the borough does not have a planning commission, the P&Z serves as the boroughâs planning agency.
In their arguments, the plaintiffs also claimed that the Village District regulations, which limit building sizes and professional uses, âbear no rational relationship to the purposes of zoning.â The Village District rules limit buildings to 6,500 square feet of floor area.
The plaintiffs further argued that the Village District regulations were illegally concurrently proposed, heard, and adopted, thus violating procedural requirements for enacting such regulations.
In its defense, the Borough Zoning Commission responded that the 1993 town plan specifically addressed the Village District zoning concept. The commission added that state law allows it to enact such regulations, which include limitations on building sizes and on professional uses.
In his findings, Judge Downey decided that state law allows local governments to create Village District zoning.
âAs long as local regulations promoting village districts are promoting the general welfare, such as public health, safety or property values, the court need only find that the regulations have some beneficial effect to find them valid,â Judge Downey wrote in his decision.
âUnless the action of the local planning/zoning authority is clearly contrary to a rational development of a local communityâs comprehensive plan, or not reasonably related to the normal police powers, courts will not interfere with local legislative decisions,â he wrote.
âA plan of development was created in 1993 and that specific reference was made in that plan to a village district,â according to Judge Downey.
The Borough Zoning Commissionâs decision to enact Village District regulations came after many years of consideration, he adds.
âThe several open and public meetings on the regulation proposals reveal [that] the commission considered public input, including the input of the plaintiffs,â the judge wrote in his decision.
âThe commission considered a host of issues including traffic congestion, pedestrian and vehicular safety, growth of the commercial center in ways most beneficial to the municipality, and preserving the value of properties within the district and adjacent to it,â he added.
âThe commission members were entitled to, and did, rely on the evidence and comments at the public hearings, the comprehensive plan, the plan of development, and their own knowledge of the local conditions to arrive at their own best judgment as to what the commercial district and the borough as a whole needed to promote safety and prosperity in the community,â Judge Downey ruled.
In response to the judgeâs ruling, Borough Attorney Donald Mitchell, who defended the Borough Zoning Commission, said, âThe effect of these [Village District] regulations wonât truly be felt for years to come.â
Borough Zoning Commission members believe that the regulations are timely because the borough will face increasing traffic pressures in the future, he said. The Village District rules will help the borough zoners address such traffic issues as they evolve, he said.
The townâs 1993 and 2004 town plans recommend that there be Village District regulations, Mr Mitchell said.
Attorney Robert Hall, who represents both Eaton Centers and RC Equity Group in the court challenges, said the judgeâs decision does not sufficiently analyze legal issues posed by the Village District zoning regulations.
Mr Hall said he will discuss with his clients whether to pursue legal appeals of the judgeâs decision.